Walt Whitman's importance in the Western literary canon cannot be overstated. Frequently named the father of America letters, he is best known for the free verse collection Leaves of Grass. The second of nine children born to financially straitened parents, Whitman left school at the age of eleven and worked as a reporter before beginning work on Leaves of Grass while in his early thirties. Initially self-published, the collection grew in popularity after being praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many contemporary reviewers accused Whitman of obscenity as a result of his poetry's overtly sexual content. Speculation about his sexuality - the result of the homosexual overtones of his work - has been rife and inconclusive. Richard Canning illustrates and elucidates the biography of the great poet using extracts from his verse, creating an insightful and sensitive portrait of a frequently misunderstood figure.
Richard Canning is a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Sheffield and has published widely in the field of gay literature. He is the author of Brief Lives: Oscar Wilde (Hesperus, 2007) and Brief Lives: E.M. Forster (Hesperus, 2009).